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Inclusiveness backlash; housing crisis roots; commuter train push; Indigenous language revitalization; broadband troubles

Of note: Today we highlight a New York Times reporter’s first-person account of how his coverage seemed to deepen a rift in Marathon County, where a resolution to declare the county a “community for all” sparked backlash from some residents. While supporters view the resolution as an innocuous step to acknowledge structural inequities and welcome residents outside of the county’s 91% white majority, some critics argue that acknowledging racial disparities is racist itself. Reid J. Epstein, a former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, writes that shining a national spotlight on the tension had ripple effects. 

After Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg said she was “devastated” by the story and quickly proclaimed Wausau “a community for all,” Epstein writes that “the backlash was swift. Opponents of the resolution dug in even more” — with critics of the resolution flooding Marathon County Board’s next meeting to urge members to keep opposing it. 

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French students at Brookfield East High School participate in an online quiz game with students attending virtually Monday, March 15, 2021, in Brookfield, Wis. Credit: Angela Major / WPR

I reported on a community dispute. The dispute got worse. 

The New York Times — June 10, 2021

Reporter Reid J. Epstein writes: When my story about a Wisconsin county’s struggle over whether to declare itself a “community for all” was published last month, I knew it might be uncomfortable for some readers. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would lead to even more strife in Marathon County, which is now more than a year into a civic debate about the value of diversity and inclusion. At issue is what many in the community view as a long-overdue acknowledgment of systemic inequalities, while others deny that such hurdles exist. This assignment was a return to my journalism roots — a look at an intense local government squabble in Wisconsin, where I began my career two decades ago covering suburban villages and school boards for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Also read from WPR: A Wisconsin school district initiative aimed at addressing inclusivity sparks uproar from parents

Stacey Burkhart, head of SAGE Green Bay and the owner of a small business, Eight Trees, poses with her dog Daisy for a portrait in her apartment. Burkhard says she struggled to qualify to rent an affordable apartment and only found hers thanks to a tip from a friend. Credit: Samantha Madar / Green Bay Press-Gazette

Northeast Wisconsin’s critical shortage of affordable housing has deep roots and no easy fixes. Here’s why.

Green Bay Press-Gazette — June 8, 2021 

Stacey Burkhart is a community leader. She’s the head of SAGE Green Bay, an organization that fosters the arts in the area, and the owner of Eight Trees Co., where she makes stuffed animals with clothing that has special value to the customer. Besides planning events and connecting artists at SAGE Green Bay, she’s passionate about the arts, her work for the community, and being accessible and present for her three children. But Burkhart struggled to find a place to live in the very community she served as she transitioned to life as a single mother of three children. She’s far from the only person to face stiff competition for the limited number of lower-priced housing units on the market. This tight housing market begs the question, how did we get here? And if there’s so much demand for affordable housing and people willing to pay for it, why aren’t developers supplying more of that type of housing? 

Read previous coverage from the Press-Gazette: She was homeless and now helps others get back on their feet. Lack of affordable housing is crimping economy, hurting families

Demise of commuter trains, public investment in suburban transportation: A look at economic segregation in Racine

The Journal Times — June 7, 2021 

Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1971, the last commuter train left Racine. Now, community leaders are looking to the past and asking: Could a commuter train help cure some of the region’s economic woes? In the past century, the country has shifted from train travel to automobiles. Simultaneously, the government focused its public infrastructure money on roads connecting the suburbs to commercial districts, but there were communities left behind because they were not close enough to freeways to benefit. Racine is one of those communities. However, Racine’s City Council is gung-ho about pursuing federal dollars to bring about the proposed KRM — a Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee commuter train — in order to link Racine to economic opportunities of the region.

Language teacher Rosa Yekushsi-yo Francour used to teach an Oneida language class at Pulaski High School. Credit: Jim Matthews / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Indigenous languages being revitalized in Wisconsin in efforts to reclaim, maintain identity

Green Bay Press-Gazette — June 8, 2021 

For Rosa Francour and other educators who are revitalizing Indigenous languages in Wisconsin, their work is about more than teaching people to use different words to communicate. Language is at the core of what it means to be Oneida, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Mohican, Potawatomi or Ojibwe, as the phrases and sentences consistently reinforce an Indigenous way of thinking and looking at the world, Francour and others say. Language is about identity as a people, and it had been nearly completely taken away through forced assimilation, especially at the infamous boarding schools in the late 19th century to mid-20th century where Indigenous children were beaten and punished for speaking their native tongue.

A chalkboard notice at Rutland’s town hall encourages Rutland residents to use the town’s website to stay up to date. Credit: Ruthie Hauge / Cap Times

No connection available: From rural towns to urban Madison, many still don’t have fast, reliable internet

Cap Times — June 9, 2021 

Waiting for the town hall in Rutland to be connected to the internet, Deana Zentner felt like a little kid on Christmas. As town chairperson of the Dane County community of just over 2,000 people, Zentner never got used to the idea that the seat of town government, just 30 minutes south of Madison, still lacked internet access 21 years into the 21st century. Even cell service was unreliable. But looking at the 1970s building, which doubles as a municipal garage, it wasn’t surprising. Inside, its burnt orange carpet and voting booths with fabric privacy curtains recall an analog era. Outside, the surrounding farms make the capital city feel far off. Zentner and her colleagues learned to make it work. They got used to running meetings without looking anything up online. And Dawn George, town clerk for over three decades, manages administrative duties from her internet-connected home. She has no office in the town hall.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.